File Size: 437 KB
Print Length: 408 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Nick M Lloyd (October 14, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author Website: http://www.nickmlloyd.com/#landingpage
In 1967, Star Trek introduced the concept of The Prime Directive in "Return of the Archons," one of the series' best episodes. There's some dispute over whether STOS's most productive writer Gene L. Coon, or Theodore Sturgeon came up with the idea (my vote is for Coon), but the concept has proved to be one of Sci-Fi's most durable memes.
In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive states that it is forbidden for members of the United Federation of Planets to contact or interfere with the development of "pre-warp" civilizations unless the needs of the plot or to whip up another morality episode requires it. No Star Trek series has failed to mention the PD or to drag elements of it into their episodes, much to the happiness of the different screenplay writers. It's a given, in Star Trek, that if you introduce light bulb technology to a species too soon, they'll promptly use the extra reading time to prematurely create fusion reactors and melt down their planet.
Screen play requirements aside, there is good reason to take elements of the PD seriously. In one of my favorite history treatises, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, author Jared Diamond describes in stunning detail why Pizaro was able to defeat on the battlefield Inca forces that outnumbered his own 300-800 to one.
Still, when you put the germs under the sociological microscope, the issue becomes a bit muddier. Suppose, through some twist of history, it had been the Aztecs who developed iron working technology and blue water sailing ahead of the Spaniards. Driven by distant tales of a people who worshiped a strange blood god, the "Chyrstos," and legends of fabulous temples filled with gold and treasure devoted to assuaging the wrath of this god and ensuring his continued beneficence, the Aztecs land on the west coast of Spain and march on Madrid. What would have been the likely outcome? We know what happened in the reverse case.
What probably would have happened was that 90% of the invaders would have died before they reached any of the treasure temples. You see, what actually destroyed the foundations of pre-Columbian civilization was disease and plague. In facing "Stone Age" Spaniards, the Aztecs may have been able to bring superior technology to the fight, but inferior immune systems (ask the Martians from War of the Worlds how this can put a crimp in your plans to conquer all mankind. (And yeah, yeah, I know, most diseases don't cross species boundaries. Except when they do. Ask the influenza virus and your local duck).
Europeans, because of their interaction with different groups and nations and their domestication of populations of fowl, cattle, swine, dogs, cats etc., all absent in North America, were epidemiological supermen in contrast to the Aztecs. If any of the invaders had survived to flee back to Tenochtitlan, they would have returned carrying catastrophe and despair. (And the more you know about the Aztecs, the less inclined you are to feel sorry for them. Especially after seeing those on-velvet paintings of Aztec warriors and princesses that are popular in Mexico City.They always leave out the heart-yanking bits.)
I've also always been skeptical of the absolute moral posturing of the PD. For instance, despite much hand wringing and revisionism about native American Indians and their regard for nature, the overwhelming evidence seems to be that when Chief Seattle's ancestors crossed over the land bridge from Siberia to the New World, their immediate reaction to the undiscovered continent's mega-fauna was "Let's Eat Em!" And for the next several thousand years, it was Giant Sloth ribs on the grill and McMastodon burgers to go.
As for the Incas, they thought transporting children up steep mountains for ritual slaughter was a splendid idea. A picture of one of the dead children is here. Looking at this, you wonder. Who held the high moral hand in Pizaro's and Atahualpa's deadly game?
This issue, and others, are examined in Emergence, a fascinating new novel by Nick Lloyd. Set in the present, we discover that a highly advanced alien species, the Gadium, a race of burly lizards, with the females weighing in at about twice their male counterparts, are sure it knows what's best for Earth. Official Gadium policy is to actively intervene, guide and manage (with the help of an occasional planetary orbital bombardment), all with the very best of intentions, the course of thousands of civilizations throughout space. As long a you do what you're told, life under Gadium suzerainty is pleasant, with advanced technology being provided to the compliant at regular intervals. Step out of line and you can consider the aforementioned orbital bombardment alternative.
The Gadium manage the process of planetary "guidance" via an elaborate systems of surveillance that infiltrates every aspect of our communications, computing, and transportation infrastructure as well as our bodies. In a switch from Star Trek's focus on technology, what the Gadium are looking for are "emergents," humans who exhibit advanced capabilities that enable them to manipulate matter at the quantum, probabilistic level.
Managing a galactic-wide bureaucracy is no trivial task. While the first book is not completely clear on the exact means by which the Gadium achieve interstellar flight, the means used require that a severe relativistic penalty be paid. Members of the Gaidium are used to being placed into stasis for thousands of years as they travel from point to point, putting quite a strain on family relations. When George Orwell was asked to shoot an elephant, at least he did it in real time. When a Gadium is told to bomb a planet, or dispose of someone who's behavior may disturb the emergence timetable of a civilization, his or her family may have been dead for centuries.
Despite its power and reach, all is not well in the Gadium imperium. A strong dissenting force opposes the Gadium policy of active galactic intervention and management. To my fascination, author Lloyd has created a society where this opposition is expressed via a quasi religious argument focusing on the moral choices a society makes based on its belief in Niels Bohr's Copenhagen vs. Hugh Everett's multiverse interpretation of the most famous experiment in modern physics, the double slit.
And yes, if you want fully enjoy and understand Emergence and have not read about the double slit experiment, you need to take some time to fully appreciate its implications for modern science. Don' t be intimidated; it's not that hard to understand and huge numbers of Sci-Fi plots and novels key off of double slit. Think of this as an opportunity to build your nerd cred.
Emergence's narrative is built around two tracks, (with a brief side story meant to illuminate the main plot). The first, and most interesting, follows the intrigues and maneuvering of the different Gadium factions as they struggle for political supremacy in an increasingly roiled and factional political milieu. The second follows a group of Earthlings as they begin to realize what is taking place on our planet and one of their members begins to exercise his growing mental capabilities. I found this track at times a bit of a drag on the flow of the story, and think the amount of plot and the cast of characters devoted to it could have been cut down. I would have spent more time on the big lizards out in space and to two members of the earthbound entourage, Jack Bullage, a man on the brink of emerging into a new kind of human and Louise Harding, who first begins to uncover the Gadium surveillance of our planet. But this is a minor criticism.
Emergence is a very intelligent and well-written book that fascinates on many levels. You can think of it as a critique of Star Trek's original Prime Directive that examines the outcome of this policy from both the viewpoint of the society impacted by the concept and the toll extracted by the power that upholds it. A social and religious discussion of the fundamental moral nature of our universe. A political fable arguing progressiveness vs. libertarianism.
Regardless of which aspect of the book you choose to focus on, you'll be rewarded. Take some time out during the Holiday season to read one of the most stimulating Sci-Fi books I've read in a long time.
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